Come Celebrate Mardi Gras Weekend!

When I think of Mardi Gras, wild images of New Orleans celebrations come to mind. Mardi Gras in New Orleans’ French Quarter is famous for drunken partiers, wearing revealing costumes and flashing in exchange for beads. After all, Mardi Gras is well known as the “Greatest Free Show on Earth!”

So when I moved to UVM last year and heard about the Mardi Gras parade, I was fascinated. Burlington has a Mardi Gras parade? Is it wild and crazy with naked drunken revellers? The 10th annual Mardi Gras weekend takes place this coming weekend, February 25-27th. It’s a party that benefits the Women’s Rape Crisis Center (WRCC). The WRCC is Burlington’s largest local crisis center, that runs a 24 hour crisis line (check out their website at www.stoprapevermont.org). They serve a lot of the UVM community as well as Burlington in general, by doing educational outreach in schools as well as advocacy and support for survivors.

The WRCC does reach mainly women (statistics still support that women are most commonly the victims of gender violence), but the organization is working on reaching men. Recently they’ve added a male victim’s advocate onto their crisis line, the WRCC works closely with one of UVM’s clubs, Men Advocating Change. Last year, the WRCC made $ 12 000 off the sale of festive beads, masks and hats, as well as donations gathered by the organizations that make floats (the Mardi Gras parade is their largest fund-raiser). The question remains though: since when did drunken behaviour and nudity (Mardi Gras) connect with sexual violence prevention? Why is there a partnership between a rape crisis center and a local brewery?

It’s a funny story how a beer company and a local rape crisis center came to collaborate. Basically, it all happened because of one person’s beer. That person, a member of WRCC, happened to purchase a bottle of one of Magic Hat’s beers. The bottle cap on the beer had an interesting (questionable?) little comment. It said something to the extent of: “Drink more ale, get more tail.” The slogan made it seem acceptable to get drunk and look for a lay. The slogan seemed to perpetuate the idea that one’s goal in drinking is to run out and find some sex.

The slogan, however, neglected to mention that drinking a lot of ale can easily lead to sex with a person that one doesn’t desire. It forgot to mention that giving consent to sex while intoxicated isn’t actually legal. It left out the part that being drunk and having sex often leads to unsafe sexual behaviors. The WRCC member found the slogan concerning and she brought this to the attention of the folks at the Magic Hat Brewery. Suddenly, a collaboration was formed, as a result of a misguided rhyme on a bottle cap. Thus, one of Burlington’s most exciting events spawned.

It still is a rather odd collaboration. While beer companies certainly don’t encourage sexual assault, it’s hard to deny that there’s a relationship between alcohol and non-consensual sex. After all, in Vermont, one isn’t even able to legally give consent to sex if he/she is intoxicated. That’s Vermont law- a law that was created because the state recognizes that alcohol is involved in 75% of sexual assaults. Alcohol actually is the most commonly used date-rape drug in America (check out the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for more information [www.niaaa.nih.gov]).

When looking a little closer though at the collaboration, it seems very brilliant of both the Women’s Rape Crisis Center and the Magic Hat Brewery. It is great PR for a brewery to throw their name behind a cause that is so socially acceptable. It is also a great opportunity for the WRCC to fundraise. At the parade, the WRCC gets a chance to remind the community of its resources in a way that’s new and refreshing. It’s also a fantastic reappropriation of an event that is well known across America to objectify women (particularly their breasts) and encourage drunken sexual activity.

So it seems Burlington’s Mardi Gras is really a taking back of Mardi Gras from all the drunken party goers in New Orleans. WRCC and Magic Hat are reshaping the meaning of Mardi Gras back into the family event that it once was known for- where everyone can come out to watch a really cool parade and at the same time give money to a worthy cause.

Mardi Gras Weekend is also now sponsored by Seven Days, 99.9 the Buzz, 106.7 WIZN, JetBlue Airways, Ben and Jerry’s, Smugglers Notch, and the Wyndham Burlington. The parade is the center of the weekend, surrounded by concerts Higher Grounds, Nectars and Club Metronome.

Magic Hat also brings out a specialty beer for Mardi Gras weekend, that’s sold at all the local pubs and restaurants. I had a great time volunteering last year. You’ll catch me doing it again this coming Saturday, making sure the kids don’t jump into the street trying to pick up beads and get hit by a float.

I’ll be there to support the local rape crisis center, while having a little fun checking out the crowds. Hopefully you’ll consider helping out as well- after all UVM students make up a large portion of the WRCC’s volunteers (in positions from crisis line workers to crowd control!).